On Lualhati Bautista’s ‘Dekada ’70’

Not merely a ‘Martial Law novel’.

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I’ve been seeing the novel Dekada ’70, by Lualhati Bautista, on National Bookstore’s Filipino shelves for as long as I can remember. That is the certain mark of a work’s membership in the literary canon, as far as the economics of required readings are concerned. But somehow, in all my years of schooling, I had evaded all the panitikan teachers who would include this novel in their syllabi. Either that, or I’m suffering a combination of faulty memory and a past fear of classic literature.

It happens that I’m currently atoning for my past disinterest in classics, and a friend lent me a copy of the progressive pocket-sized novel. (I imagined—framed—my friend as a concerned citizen discreetly sharing subversive readings to a fellow citizen, for enlightenment in these dark times.) I have no idea when, or if at all, I would ever have read this novel if not for this friend. Dekada ’70’s cover has intimidated me all these years, after all. Every time I would see its stark red, overtly political cover illustration, my mind’s interest-switch flips off. I am all for appreciating realist, social-political narratives on a medium like film, but I’m a slow reader, and I only have so much reading capacity to spare when it comes to grim literature.

I’m glad that I proved my own expectations wrong. Everyone mutters, don’t judge a book by its cover, but the reality is that for the majority of books we lay our eyes upon at the bookstore, we pre-screen them by sight. By their covers, that is. Certainly, we could read the synopsis, cross-check with reviews or recommendations, but before any of this can be accomplished, we would already have instinctively formed prejudices on a book by its face. The book design for Dekada ’70 belies the novel’s domestic tone: there are grim moments in this story, true, and the anxious climate of the titular era is the omnipresent spirit of the narrative, but the entire tale is depicted in such a welcoming, informal manner that the political becomes personal—what would otherwise have caused distant despair becomes a matter of intimate concern.

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Pagsasalin, paglalayag

Sa pagsasalin ng mga kuwento, ang mga banyagang kaligayahan at pasakit ay ganap naring nagiging atin.

Takaw-pansin ang makulay na pabalat ng Layag. Tila pino itong lambat na humuhuli sa madulas at malabnaw na atensiyon ng mga katulad kong mahilig luminga-linga sa bookstore. Nang makita ko kung tungkol saan ang aklat, hindi na ako nakatakas sa pang-aakit—madalian ko nang binili.

Paano ba naman, nagkataon na may kasalukuyan akong pagsisikap na magbasa ng mga akdang klasiko. Minsan hindi ko matiis ang pagbabasa ng ‘importanteng’ panitikan. Isang antolohiya ang Layag ng mga maiikling kuwento at salaysay ng mga sikat na Europeong manunulat, ng mga tulad nina Guy de Maupassant at Luigi Pirandello. Halos lahat ng mga awtor ay pinanganak noong gitna hanggang hulihan ng ika-19 na siglo; karamihan ng mga akdang kasali ay naglalarawan ng mundong Kanluran sa panahon ding iyon, at sa mga batang dekada ng ika-20 na siglo.

Sa totoo, akala ko dadagdag lang ang Layag sa tambak ng mga babasahing iniipon ko sa bahay, ngunit sinimulan ko agad at mabilis ko itong natapos. Hindi ko kasi maitanggi ang husay ng sari-saring estilo na itinatampok sa lipon ng mga kuwento. Iba-iba ang pakiramdam na dinudulot nito: may nakakatawa (Ang Pagligo sa Araw ni Janko Jesenský), may nakakasabik (Pagtakas Tungo sa Buhay na Walang Hanggan ni Stefan Zweig), may nakakapanlumo (Ang Hosier at Ang Anak Niyang Dalaga ni Steen Steensen Blicher), may nakakatakot (Ang Horla ni Guy de Maupassant) o nakakakilabot (Satan ni Ramón del Valle-Inclán). Ngunit, pinakamadalas, ang naiiwang pakiramdam ng mga kuwento ay pagkalumbay. Marahil ay dahil ito sa paksa, lugar at panahon na pinagmumulan ng mga kaganapan: ang romantikong Europa ng nakalipas na siglo. Sa pagsunod ko sa mga kaganapang inilalarawan ng mga salita, kusa na itong ipinipinta ng aking isip sa mapanglaw na mga kulay. Natural sa Layag ang taglay nitong nostalgia.

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In defense of boring books

When I was still a student, I’ve heard more than one friend complain about textbooks and how they can’t wait for the break, to be done with textbooks and finally be able to read the more interesting, “meaningful” books. As a booklover myself, I understand where the sentiment is coming from, though I strongly disagree with the rant against textbooks.

The defendant in this unfortunate case is the type of book that is cited in college course introductions, the kind of book that straight-faced, soft-spoken academics would enjoin their new students to get a copy of. (And they’re invariably expensive, so the resourceful student might go hunting for the requirement in Morayta and Recto; but, more likely in this day and time, the student will just look for a pirated PDF copy to download to his laptop or tablet, or to be copied from a friend’s USB stick.) The textbook is the usually-thick tome with the straightforward title, such as “Sociology,” or “Financial Accounting,” or “Film Art”. And while the non-textbook forgoes rigidity, being simply divided into chapters, the textbook is often crazy about structure: divided into sections, chapters, and sub-chapters; is decorated with boxes and sidebars; and often has end-of-chapter reviews, summaries, and exercises. The overloaded textbook wants it all, prose and poetry.

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